Friday, May 30, 2008

FEEL THE GREEN SLIME!


Well, we've all had a lot of fun dissecting the true meaning of mindfulness. Now let's move on to serious topics.

I just came across this trailer for the 1968 Japanese/American co-production The Green Slime (ガンマー第3号 宇宙大作戦, Gamma Dai San Go Uchu Dai Sakusen, Gamma 3 — Operation: Outer Space). This has got to be one of the greatest, most over-the-top promo videos I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of 'em, believe you me! Dig the groovy theme song at the end. This tune was covered by my former label mates and fellow garage-psych revivalists The Fuzztones.

Hey, and just by the way, another Buddhist word that should fuck off and die forever is skillful. Have you heard this one yet? In Buddhism there's this idea of what they call skillful means. It's the notion that Buddhist teachers use whatever they have at their disposal to teach in accordance with the audience they're addressing. These "skillful means" often do not appear much like what we usually think of as Buddhist teaching (i.e. lame ass fucks in robes sitting on raised platforms talking in soothing voices about beautiful spiritual things).

These days, though, the word "skillful" has become a trendy way for neo-Buddhists to say they like something. "Unskillful" means they don't like something. So if you do something your average neo-Buddhist these days likes he'll say, "That was skillful." And if he doesn't like the way you do it he'll say, in a sweet lilting little voice, "That was unskillful."

When this happens you have my express written permission to punch the person who says it in the solar plexus. Hard.

Skillful this, motherfucker!

In reality these folks have it all bass-ackwards. If you look at the literature most of the things that get pointed out as "skillful means" are things the person who experienced those self-same skillful means did not like at all, or didn't even get at the time.

Whatever. Have fun. I'm gonna go.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MINDFULNESS (Part A Million)

My God! I was wrong two times! The first two times in my whole entire life I've ever been wrong! What's happening?

Thanks to Ted Bringer and Dosho Port for pointing out a couple more times the word "mindfulness" or something like it occurs in Dogen's writing. The longest and most complete explanations he gives of mindfulness occur in a chapter titled SANJUSHICHI-BON BODAI BUNPO (三十七品菩提分法). This is chapter 73 of the 95 chapter Shobogenzo and appears as the first chapter of book 4 of the Nishijima/Cross English translation and the first chapter of book 10 in Nishijima's rendition of Shobogenzo in modern Japanese (現代語訳正法眼蔵, which contains Dogen's actual words as well).

Here's what some of what Dogen says:

Mindfulness as a root is a withered tree as a mass of red flesh. We call a mass of red flesh “a withered tree,” and a withered tree is mindfulness as a root. We ourselves who are groping for the mark are mindfulness. There is mindfulness that exists in moments of owning one’s body, and there is mindfulness that exists in moments of having no mind. There is conscious mindfulness, and there is mindfulness in which there is no body. The very life-root of all the people on Earth is mindfulness as a root. The very life-root of all the buddhas in the ten directions is mindfulness as a root. There can be many people in one state of mindfulness and many states of mindfulness in one person. At the same time, there are people who have mindfulness and there are people who do not have mindfulness. People do not always have mindfulness, and mindfulness is not necessarily connected with people. Even so, through the skillful maintenance of this mindfulness as a root, the virtue of perfect realization exists.

The word that gets translated as "mindfulness" in the Nishijima/Cross translation is 念. In contemporary Japanese this character is pronounced "nen" and means senses, ideas or attention. In common usage it occurs in words like 残念 (zanen) "regrettable," in which the first character refers to things generally thought of as lacking or 念入り (neniri) "careful" in which the second character means something like "add" or "enter." The word 念 is not usually translated as mindfulness in non-Buddhist contexts. "Mind," without the "-fulness," might also be a good reading for 念. Try it that way and see what it says to you. Kinda different, eh?

If you want to get real tricky, the Chinese character 念 consists of two parts. The 今 on top means "now" while the 心 on the bottom means "mind" or "heart." In Buddhist contexts in English 心 is most often translated as "mind." So whoever made up the character seems to have wanted to point out the condition of mind right now. For what that's worth, which isn't much really. Just some random kanji play for y'all. Nishijima once told me a story of visiting some Biblical scholars in Israel. He said the visit showed him "the dangers of believing in ancient texts." We get locked into battles of words that are incredibly stupid even though they sound wicked smart.

The point is that the word "mindfulness" has become such a bullshit term in current usage that it's worse than useless. It's time to strangle it and stomp it out of its misery.

Fuck mindfulness.

My friend Tonen told me a story that when she was in Japan a Zen teacher she met there said that Americans who visited his temple were always gushing to him about how mindful they were being. "Put away your video cameras," he told them, "You're just video taping yourselves being mindful!"

Reading what Dogen wrote it's clear that the word 念 was widely misunderstood even in his day among the people he spoke to. Thus he tries to twist their usual understanding of it into areas they don't expect it to go.

In any case, the same Dogen chapter also contains the line, "Do not listen to the inadequate words of Zen Masters and the like." So there!

Monday, May 26, 2008

NEW SUICIDE GIRLS ARTICLE (May, 2008) and more on MINDLESS MINDFULNESS

Got a new SuicideGirls article up now. Yet another one about porn. I swear I'm gonna stop writing this article over & over one of these days. Maybe when people stop asking me to.

I just woke up, so I'm not gonna try and expound anymore about mindfulness until maybe later. The thing with most words used in Buddhism is that once the general public latches onto them and defines them in their own way they're dead. I think it's time to bury the word "mindfulness." It's just a cliche anymore. And, as I said (see below), seems to indicate in practice a state of fuzzy headed thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking while congratulating yourself on how mindful you're being. Lock the God damned doors and close the windows when you leave somebody else's house!

In the only place I know of where Dogen uses the word mindfulness he goes, "Mindfulness is the donkey looking at the well. It is the well looking at the donkey. It is the donkey looking at the donkey. It is the well looking at the well." He also says, "Without knowing who taught you, you think that mind is a function of the brain. When I say that mind is grass and trees you don't believe it." And, of course, Dogen did not use the word "mindfulness" at all. Neither did Buddha. The word did not even exist during their lifetimes. The English language itself didn't even exist in Buddha's day. Later on I'll go look up the Japanese word Dogen used that's translated here as "mindfulness" by Nishijima/Cross*.

Thing is, though, the "mindfulness" being taught nowadays seems to imply that we need to be mindful. As if we could somehow enact mindfulness. Nope. Can't be done. Mindfulness is occurring always. We need to get out of its way.



* It looks like I was wrong! First time in my whole life (hi, trolls)! I'd always thought the donkey-well line was about mindfulness. I even put it in my book Sit Down And Shut Up that way. Which goes to show you can never trust what's written in books! Shameful!!

In fact, the donkey-well stuff occurs in the chapter titled "Not Doing Wrongs" (諸悪莫作 SHOAKU MAKUSA, chapter 10 in book one of the Nishijima/Cross translation of Shobogenzo) and says, "[The relation between] wrongs and not committing is not only a well looking at a donkey; it is the well looking at the well, the donkey looking at the donkey, a human being looking at a human being, and a mountain looking at a mountain." Nishijima explains this chapter on his blog right here. Although he makes a spelling mistake and keeps using the word "will" instead of "well" at one point (I gotta go fix that).

This is a reference to a koan that appears in Eihei Zenji Goroku (永平禅師語録 The Recorded Sayings of Eihei Zenji, a.k.a. Dogen). The koan goes, "Master Sozan once asked a monk, 'How is it when the dharma body of reality is manifesting form in accordance with beings, like the moon reflected in the water?' The monk said, 'It's like a donkey looking at a well.' Sozan said, 'You have said quite a lot, but you have only said eighty percent of it.' The monk then asked, 'What do you say, teacher?' Sozan answered, 'It's like the well looking at the donkey.'"

The only instance I can find where Dogen uses anything like the word "mindful" occurs in a piece he wrote called Zazengi(坐禅儀), or "Method for Zazen Practice." In Kazuaki Tanahashi's translation, which appears in Moon In A Dewdrop it says, "be mindful of passing time." I checked it out and the actual line is: 光陰を護惜べし. Carl Bielefeldt translates this as, "hold dear the passing days and nights." Both the words 光陰 and 護惜 are no longer in common use. 光陰 means roughly "light and darkness." And, by the way, for those of you who think of me as a smutty minded perv, I happen to know the character 陰 from the word 陰毛 which means "pubic hair" or, literally, "hair in darkness." The word 護惜 is a combo of two characters that mean "protect" (護) and "dearly" (惜). That's the word Tanahashi translates as "mindful." It's not as much of a stretch as Brian Victoria translating Kodo Sawaki's statement meaning "we were fed up with killing" as "we gorged ourselves on killing." But it is a slight, though perfectly acceptable, stretch to use the word "mindful" here.

Be careful not to get stuck on words (says a guy who just devoted a couple hours of his holiday morning to looking up some words). Don't say I never looked up nuthin' for you!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

MINDFULNESS SCHMINDFULNESS

I'm so happy Nishijima Roshi put up this post about mindfulness. It's the May 24, 2008 posting if I've just sent you to a generic link to his blog. Anyway I'm so fed up with this whole mindfulness thing it's wonderful to see somebody else feels the same way. And, no, we never discussed this particular topic.

I've been saying lately that I want to destroy the whole cult of mindfulness that's grown up in Buddhism these days. As Nishijima points out, the word "mindfulness" has come to mean getting deeper and deeper into your own head and that's not Buddhism at all. I think I've bitched about this before. But I live in a meditation center where several teachers do their thing. I can't tell you how many times I've been in my room listening to someone rattling on about mindfulness then come out after they've gone to find they've left the door unlocked, the windows wide open, the chairs all over the place... What the hell kind of mindfulness are they studying out there?

It's such a crap word. Anyway, just a little plug for Nishijima's blog. And speaking of plugs, see below for one about the Zero Defex CDs.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

ZERO DEFEX CD


No time to write, people coming in for all-day Zazen in moments.

But I wanted to remind all of you that the new Zero Defex CD is available now from CD Baby or you can get a copy personally autographed by me on eBay right here!

You think that's cheezy. I think me and Jeff and Mickey spent a whole lot of money making the bastards...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

GUESS I'M DUMB

I've spent pretty much my whole morning staring at my computer and scratching my head. I bought this thing called Fab Four, by East/West. It's a virtual instrument thngamajig with samples of all the instruments The Beatles used. The demo sounded really cool and I had good fun with M-Tron, a virtual Mellotron plug in. I figured I'd give this a go. I read the specs & they said you need 13 gigabytes of hard drive space to install it. Well, I don't have that much space free on my laptop or desk top, but I do have an outboard drive that I used to make Cleveland's Screaming and it has plenty of space left. So OK.

When I tried to install it on the outboard drive, I got a message saying it can only be installed on the "running hard drive." Ugh. So I sat and tried to figure out a solution. Here's what I came up with. But I don't know if it'll work or not. I dumped all my iTunes stuff from the desk top computer since I never listen to music on it anyway. That freed up the needed space on the HD. I'm now installing it there. When it's done I can (I hope) copy everything onto the outboard drive. Unless it's got some kinda restriction against that. Looking at the nearly useless FAQ on their site, they recommend in several similar (but not exactly the same) circumstances copying stuff to other drives.

If it doesn't work the way I hope I guess the worst scenario is the thing is forever on my desk top & whenever I need to use it outside my house I gotta move that. It's easier than moving a Hammond organ, so I guess that's not so bad.

Anyone out there smarter than me about this stuff is invited to write me with a better solution.

Some random thoughts for the day:

I was reading a few of the responses to the previous post. I find it remarkable how I'll say something, then someone embellishes what I've said with their own imagination, then that person proceeds to comment upon the stuff they've imagined as if I said that stuff. That's such a weird thing to me.

On this blog I've opened up my life to a tremendous degree. But there's no way I could possibly report everything that happens to me. I had a really good poop this morning, for example. But I don't usually report those details. Even when I report what's going on, you're really only getting like a millionth of a percent of what actually happened. When I described that meeting, for example, I didn't tell you about the strange dude who came up to me in the lobby saying, "Kenny! How ya doin'? Don't you remember me? I went to school with you. Yale, class of '76!" I didn't tell you about the weird security system in the lobby & in the elevator that screamed of intense post 9/11 paranoia. I didn't say much at all about what the meeting was intended to accomplish. And so on and on and on and on. You'll never know any of that stuff. And, if you're sane, you probably don't care.

I'm just wondering how much trouble we human beings cause each other by reading into things, by embellishing what we hear and see with our own invented details and then acting upon what we've invented. A great blessing/curse in my own life is that I'm too stupid to do that to any great degree. I mean if you intend to insinuate something to me, watch out because I probably will not get what you're driving at. Stuff has to be spelled out really clearly.

One thing that's helped in my practice has been that I no longer try as hard to figure out what people "really mean" when they say something to me. I just take nearly everything totally at face value. I don't usually "get" sarcasm, for example. I can tell when people are using it. But more often than not I have no idea what they're implying with it. And I won't usually put in the necessary effort to try and work it out.

I think Zen practice tends to make you more like this over time. I've noticed my teachers do it even more than I do. You develop a kind of dumb approach to life.

Anyway. Whatever.

My friend Leilani who's staying up at Tassajara says that girls tend to leave the place quickly, more so than guys. She asks if Zen is a macho thing. It's a good question. I don't think it's inherently macho or masculine. Yet I do see more guys take to it than gals. Like heavy metal or punk. I don't have any real comment about that. I wish more women would show up to the classes and suchlike. Any suggestions on how to make Zen more user-friendly to women?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

HELL MEETING AT WORK TODAY

I’m back in L.A. Back home. I started an article about the Buddhist concept of "home leaving" this morning. And maybe one of these days I’ll finish the bastard thing. But I stopped working on it so I could go to a meeting related to my “real job.” And after coming back, I feel like an article about that meeting might be more relevant, or at least more interesting to me to sit down and write. I don’t really like to write abstract stuff.

Anyway, this meeting. Jesus God in Heaven what a fucking nightmare! Whenever you try to explain the problems you have at work to someone outside your company or outside your specific industry they never make much sense. In fact they always seem incredibly trivial to anyone not directly involved. That’s because they are. And the problems we’re talking about are trivial beyond all bounds of trivia. Nobody fucking cares about the rights to pictures from monster movies. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Most of the stuff most of us face at work falls into this category, I think.

Anyway, my approach to the meeting was to try to keep things as friendly as possible and to have a reasonable discussion in order to arrive at a solution that satisfied everyone involved. Unfortunately I was facing a guy who wasn’t interested in talking like a reasonable human being. I spent about 15 minutes in the offices of the company who are complaining to our company about a bunch of monstrously trivial crap before it was utterly obvious that no discussion could possibly take place. I think they believe they threw me out. I guess maybe they did. They made a point of not showing me to the door, which I thought was just silly. But I was every bit as glad to be out of there as they were glad to have me gone.

The whole scene was beyond silly all the way to the realm of high comedy. And I felt bad for the guy I had to talk to, let’s call him Mr. Koksukka. Because he really seemed to be getting himself worked up into a lather over the whole thing. Of course it’s mostly an act. But it takes a lot of energy to sustain and it must be extraordinarily painful, a sad way to live and work. I suppose he gets paid well for it. But it’s got to be extremely damaging and I can't imagine it's really worth it. I could see the damage it had already done to him and it was hard not to want to try and help. But there wasn’t really anything I could do.

Mr. Koksukka kept trying to drive the discussion into very abstract areas that didn't really lead anywhere good, namely the past. There was a whole lot of "Why did you do XXXX six months ago? Why didn't you do YYYY at that time?" Is this a Japanese thing? Or does everyone do this? Because I always refuse to go there. There's no point. In point of fact in this case I did not make any of the past mistakes he wanted me to admit to. But even if I had there would be no real point in discussing them. And the people I'm talking to never seem to really get that. I want to fix the problem that exists now given the conditions that exist now. That seems to be one of the hardest areas to move these kinds of discussions into, though. In the past I've gotten drawn into that sort of trap and it never goes anywhere useful.

Anyway, as I sat there, trying to talk like a human being to someone who reacted to everything I said with (mostly fake) outrage and anger, I felt my own mouth start to dry up. I thought that was a bit odd because I didn’t feel much emotional involvement in the situation. But Mr. Koksukka’s demeanor was such that it produced a number of the kind of involuntary responses one feels when one is faced with actual danger. At one point I reached for my notebook and accidentally knocked over a remote control thingy that was sitting on the table. Again I thought, weird. I was actually losing a certain degree of coordination because of this. My field of vision also seemed to narrow in a way, as if my peripheral vision was somehow compromised. All of this with only the slightest degree of actual emotional involvement.

Now I’m not trying to tell you how enlightened and “Zen” I am. Just trying to describe the situation. I entered this coming out of two two-day Zen retreats in two weeks and about 25 years of daily practice, including 45 minutes just before I left for the meeting. Though it’s certainly not impossible to fluster me, it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be. Yet the situation was such that an entire array of involuntary responses came into play anyway.

As I walked out I started thinking that there are lots of people who must have to face this kind of nonsense day after day after day. It's soooo sad. To a large degree a lot of the problems that face humanity are caused by so many of us engaging in this kind of desperately silly behavior on a regular basis. I used to deal with a lot more of it than I do nowadays. I’ve tended to cut those things out of my life as much as possible.

But I’ve been lucky. I’ve developed certain abilities and skills that allow me to minimize my interaction with that world. Still, there’s no sphere of human activity that’s free of such stupidity. Sometimes you can find a place to be where people are aware of these things and make their efforts to minimize such behavior. Yet it seems to always surface to one degree or another in spite of our best efforts. It doesn't help that our society rewards people who act like Mr. Koksukka so richly.

Throughout my Zen career my teachers have encouraged, almost demanded, that I continue to work in the film business. I always wondered why because if there’s any business in the world that’s more prone to useless displays of emotionalism, well, I don’t want to go there! It seems like the movie business attracts drama queens like shit attracts flies. Why would my teachers want me to stay in such an environment?

I think it’s because I can make a difference here. And that’s important. And it may be just as important for those of you out there reading this who practice Zen and work real jobs to continue making little differences wherever you are. That’s why I’m not really sold on the idea of people running away from whatever it is they do for a living in the work-a-day world to go and, I dunno, help the starving children in Africa or whatever it is. As if helping the starving children in Africa is better than whatever it is they’re doing now. In most cases I have doubts.

I kind of feel like having one grounded person in an otherwise insane company acts a little like having a gyroscope in the bottom of a ship. The gyroscope is a tiny thing, but it steadies the whole ship somehow. As ineffective and ineffectual as I usually feel, I have faith that I make just a little tiny difference by remaining steady.

I wonder what effect I had today. It certainly wasn’t easy to see. I’m sure Mr. Koksukka has his own view of the meeting. I wonder if he has any clue what transpired. I wonder if I do. Although I'm arrogant enough to suspect I have a bit clearer of an idea than he does. Does it matter? Well, I’m writing this right now. So maybe the meeting had some meaning, rather than none at all.

I dunno. Whatever. This isn’t really one of my best elucidations on the nature of human interaction. But I wanted to post it while it was still fresh. Hope you enjoyed it.

I’m gonna go play in the sun for a while.

Bye!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fuck Institutionalized Zen

I picked up a little newsletter from the magazine rack at a Zen center I visited, a publication put out by the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco. And there was an article in there that, to me, spelled out why institutionalized Zen sucks dead donkey puds.

The article was by a European Zen monk who tells how he got invited to participate in the 2007 Sotoshu Ango in Europe. What on God’s green Earth is an ango, you may ask. I did. I had to go look it up. Turns out an ango is an intensive 90-day Zen training period. In this case it was a very special training period organized by the Soto Sect’s central governing body (Sotoshu) in Japan to be its very first official duly licensed training period in Europe. That’s Soto Zen®, to you buster! So basically we’re talking about the Zen equivalent of a tractor and farm implements trade show or an annual meeting of the Midwestern Nabisco Cookie Company sales reps.

The guy writes that just before he got the invitation, “my 72 year old father was diagnosed with spreading colon cancer.” Nonetheless he elected to go to Soto-shu’s big party. “I wished my father a peaceful death and went on my way,” he says. His dad died the first day of the big to-do. Our friend did not leave the festivities to attend the funeral. All along, he says, he asked himself, “what importance do I give my greatest desire of simply living a religious life, and how is this deep desire obscured, pushed away in a far away corner by some idealistic or romantic desires that disperse my attention and bring along so much suffering and frustration in this life, in this society?” Like maybe the frustration of a dying parent? God I hate it when that happens. It’s worse than hangnails.

Now look. Pay attention to what I’m about to say, Internet trolls. I am not addressing this blog entry to the guy who wrote that article. If I wanted to communicate with him I’d write him a letter. You’ll notice I haven’t named the gentleman in question. Nor do I have any reason to believe he reads this blog. What I am addressing here is the presence of an article like this in an official publication of the Soto organization and the utterly fucked message it sends. Got that? I know some of you don’t. But I’ll keep going anyway.

I have no idea what this guy’s relationship to his dad was. For all I know maybe dad beat him with a coat hanger every day until he was big enough to hit back, and that’s the real reason he skipped out on him during his last moments on Earth. But even if that was the case, all of us have a far bigger commitment to our families — our real families not our fake “spiritual families” — than to some big corporate religious institution that’s throwing a jamboree.

The article makes it sound as though our friend was so dazzled to be one of the elite few allowed by the Masters in far off and oh-so-truly-Zen Japan to participate in the event that he lost sight of his real duties. The Soto organization seems to want to promote the idea that we should run away from the suffering and frustration of our real lives and hide in the warm and protective bosom of big mama Sotoshu. This is what whacked out religious cults do. There is no place for this kind of nonsense in Buddhism. If only this were the only instance where the Sotoshu acted this way…

And just FYI, the folks in most Western Zen institutions have Yellow Fever so bad they need high dosage antibiotics stat. Whenever someone from the magical land of Japan steps into the room they’re all ready to slaughter each other to be the first to stick their tongues up his ass. Look, I lived in Japan for eleven years. I’ve seen more homeless guys in stolen black robes collecting spare change for booze money in train stations than I can count, and more “real” Buddhist monks in flashy imported cars bought with the money they charge to give peoples’ dead relatives Dharma names in Heaven than I could possibly vomit over. Get over it, people. But I digress…

The ancient Buddhist teachers often talked about leaving home and family for the religious life. Fine. But this is not an example of “leaving home and family.” As presented, the story given in this article is an example of getting sucked into the power games of a corporate elite with a vested interest in expanding their authority and control. “Leaving home and family” means switching your focus from trivial materialistic entanglements towards a larger more universal purpose. It doesn’t mean skipping out on your dying dad because you might miss the opportunity to kiss the asses of the higher ups in your cult. And this is sure as heck what the article seems to be promoting. Once again, trust me, I know there are a lot of legitimate reasons people might want to miss out on the death of a parent. I’ve heard stories that would curl your toenails. But getting invited to a big pow-wow by the sect bosses is not one of them. Never. No.

The guy goes on to gush about how the experience of the ango promoted the development of compassion and wisdom towards oneself and towards others. Huh? Compassion and wisdom is when you tell the big guys at the home office in Japan to stuff their party invitation, your dad is dying. Again (again), as much as it might seem like it, I am not, not, not addressing the guy who wrote the article. He gives hints that other factors were involved in his decision. But if the editors of the magazine did not want to send the message that cult activities take precedence over dying parents they should have asked for a rewrite. They didn’t.

Organized religion can bite me. The Sotoshu can bite me. I’ll go to their clambakes from time to time just to see how much distance I need to put between me and them. That is, if I ever get invited to one again. But more and more I’m seeing just how great the gap really is between the kind of Buddhism I learned and now teach and the stuff the higher ups in the Soto Organization World HQ want to spread. I remain a card-carrying member of the cult for now. But, man-o-man do I regret it sometimes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

LEAVING AKRON

I'm at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport taking advantage of their free, uncensored wireless Internet service. If you follow this blog you'll learn which airports in this country have it. Not only can I look at all the tits and ass on Suicide Girls (and cock if I were to so desire, they now have Suicide Boys) that I want, I can also read this article about war protesters invoking Lucifer for their cause. Wonderful. I often wonder if some of these people aren't just hired by the Powers That Be specifically to make their opposition look bad. Sadly, as attractive as that explanation sounds, I highly doubt it's true. People are really, really, really, really, really, really dumb.

The talk at Visible Voice Books was fun. A wonderful time was had by all.

I spent a lot of time with my first teacher Tim this week. That was very nice. He is the genuine article. How I managed to come across someone like him and later Nishijima Sensei boggles my mind.

They're playing "Take It Away" by Paul McCartney and Wings (I think that one was released under the Wings moniker). A pretty obscure tune for airport muzak. I'm pretty much of a Beatle geek, tho I haven't followed Paul's solo career that closely. In Akron I spent lots of money at Time Traveler Records stocking up on Beatle bootlegs. I got a double set of rough mixes and out-takes from George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album. And a 3 disc set of out-takes from Public Image Limited's early works including the entire Commercial Zone album, the great "lost" PiL record that went unreleased after John Lydon and and guitarist Keith Levene quarreled. Levene issued his version of the record, Lydon sued and the record disappeared.

Speaking of unreleased things, I got a chance to read my friend Dave Materna's novel Big Yellow Car. The book was almost issued by a major publisher back around 1992. But the dorks got cold feet at the last minute. Too bad for them because it's a work of genius! A real portrait of punk rock in Akron, Ohio.

In a few hours I'll be in Milwaukee where I'll lead a two day mini-sesshin this weekend. That should be hoppin'. Show up and buy a copy of the new Zero Defex as a souvenir (and help pay my expenses in the bargain). Or order a copy from CD Baby. (But buy it from me personally if you're there)

Oops! It'll be more live several hours before I get to Milwaukee. The flight has been delayed and they didn't mention that little wrinkle to me when I checked in. See, the woman behind the counter was being hassled by her supervisor to make sure she charged extra for any bag over 61 inches. My bass came out to 61 and a quarter inches and I was duly charged $50. I coulda sent it to myself cheaper! Oh, and her flustered-ness also caused her not to check it thru to Milwaukeee, which, luckily, I noticed when I, uncharacteristically, looked at the tags she gave me. The supervisor needed to be told to focus on important issues instead of dicking people over for extra change for their bags. This I did not do. Not a major failure on my part. But I could have achieved the necessary communication without being harsh or nasty and I should have done so.

So it's airport food for me tonight. Oh boy. I'm sure glad I didn't elect to spend six months in Tassajara. Not. But you really can't remain in places like that very long anyway. You eventually have to leave. I met people up there who'd successfully hidden from the outside world for three or four years. But it never lasts. If you are the kind of person who gets rankled by things you will find things to rankle you no matter where you go. Guaranteed. It's not the surroundings that need changing.

I got called today by a reported from NOW magazine in Toronto. This getting called for quotes is becoming a regular thing. Weird. I'm an expert, I guess. Anyway, her article was about gossip and she wanted a Buddhist perspective. I told her that there is a precept against spreading gossip. I've always found that one sort of funny. I mean, the other precepts cover big issues like killing and stealing. But they chose to include a vow not to gossip in there too, right with the "grave precepts." It seems kind of trivial by comparison. But it must be important. Even so, every Buddhist temple or retreat center I've ever been to is a non-stop gossip factory. It's like being at a hair salon or something!

I think the key thing is that gossip always points way from yourself. You pick out faults in others. But you do not know the lives of others. There is no sense in pretending you do. It's a waste of everyone's time and energy. You can't say, for example, "That guy over there is violating the precepts!!" You do not know what the precepts are for that guy. Never. Ever. No. Forget it. If someone's hurting someone else maybe you should intervene. But such cases are very rare. Mostly it's none of your business. Even in such cases it's never good to assume an air of superiority. Just do what needs done. Gossip always assumes the gossipper is morally superior to the gossippee.

She also asked about thinking before you speak. I told her that in Buddhism we don't really view thinking as the best basis for deciding what to do. In my own case, rather than thinking before I speak, I tend more to look at my state of mind and body before I speak. If I feel that I'm about to say something defensive or hurtful, I usually stop. If that means not speaking at all, fine. Most of what most of us say doesn't really need to be said anyhow.

Here's what's left of the gigs:

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Friday, May 09, 2008

BURMA KARMA

Y'know, if I was newly minted punk rocker I think I'd call myself Linus Appalling.

The new Zero Defex CD is now available from CD Baby. Go order yours today! It comes in a groovy digipak with all the lyrics including my own appallingly bad words for my own song "Hypocrite." On the CD I sing it in Japanese because I didn't want to own up to the actual lyrics. But Mickey and Jeffro, who were in charge of the CD package, put the English lyrics on! Nooooooo!!! But now it's there for the world to see & you can't see it, world, unless you buy the damned CD. So buy it.

Yesterday I got a phone call from the guy who did this article about the cyclone in Burma. I only got one quote. But he spelled my name right, so that's a plus. And he didn't put in a photo of Noah Levine with my name under it (it's really happened before!!), another plus.

The guy called asking me what I thought of the fact that lots of Buddhists are saying the recent cyclone in Burma was karmic commupence (how do you spell that?) for the military crack-down on Buddhist monks there. I had to laugh. It's such a ridiculous idea. It sounds just like when Pat Robertson said the Sept. 11th attacks were God's punishment to all the gays and lesbians in New York (which is what I said that got shortened in the article). Or whatever Pat Robertson said. Just pure bullshit nonsense. Same with blaming the cyclone on karma. Stupid superstitious bull-hockey, I say! And I am the final word on everything!!!!

And even if it was their karma, which is wasn't, who gives a shit? People are in trouble. Go help them. No more analysis than that is necessary.

The guy wanted to know if this was a widespread type of belief across Asia. It's hard for me to say much about all of Asia. But, in Japan it's certainly not common to blame natural disasters on bad karma. I mean, when the Kobe earthquake happened it wasn't like everybody said, "Yeah, serves 'em right for having named their city after Kobe Bryant when he gave all those women AIDS." The closest thing I ever heard to this in the years I lived there was when we found some abandoned baby birds in the warehouse where the company I worked for stored the monster costumes. Someone said that the birds' fate was "Hotoke-sama's will." Hotoke-sama is what they call Buddha. But even in this case there was no recourse to saying this was the baby birds' bad karma from previous lifetimes.

If people do say this, then they don't know much about Buddhism. That's all I can say.

*****

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM I'll do a book signing and talk at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood.

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

WHORNZ NOT HORNS and FAME

The band we're (0DFx, that is) playing with on Friday at Square Records in Akron is Whornz not Horns as I previously stated. In their flier they correctly state that we were punk rock when the lizard me ruled. Damn lizard men. Such a pain in the ass they were.

Yesterday I started writing two new articles. One for Suicide Girls was about porn (again, sigh). That'll go up on May 26th. The other one is about being famous. I'll probably try and place that in a magazine. If I'm successful, I'll let you know where it shows up.

I'll paraphrase the second one briefly. When 0DFx played Pat's in the Flats last weekend, this drunk guy came up to me in the toilet going, "You're Brad Warner aren't you? You're famous!" He seemed angry about this. "I should be famous!" I thought he might try to piss on me, but he didn't. "What's it like being famous?" he sneered. I was tempted to say, it's like having some drunk guy harass you in the toilet in a bar.

To the extent that I'm famous, which is not very much, it's generally a pain in the ass (like those lizard men). People you thought were your friends suddenly turn on you. I had one "dharma brother" tell me, “I wonder what you have been up to on your tour of TV shows and magazine articles as a minor celebrity over there in the US, sitting around in your bright golden robe and waving your stick around.” Another one said he was going to, “go public with every resource I have privately and on the internet to make you a laughingstock, to tell folks what I think of you, to embarrass you. I will speak out, you embarrassment to yourself, our teacher, (and) all of us associated with this.” Jealousy is fun stuff.

Yet jealousy never makes any sense. It's the idea that I ought to have what he's got. But that's never true. Whatever someone has achieved they've achieved, not through random chance or through the unfairness of life, but through their own efforts. Not only that, but they now have to deal with whatever it is they've achieved. And you probably couldn't deal with it.

This whole "I'm going to expose the truth about you" thing is a recurring theme. Considering that I've made a career out of exposing the very worst of my self to public scrutiny I really have to wonder. I mean, did my "dharma brother" (drama brother, more like) think he could do a better job of turning me into a laughing stock than I'm already doing? Go ahead and try.

So far I've gotten all of the downside of being famous without any of the perks. I'm not rich, I don't get offered good seats in restaurants, no one yet has thrown a pair of panties at me during a book signing or lecture. Yet all kinds of people expect me to live up to whatever image they've created in their minds about what I ought to be. That's what it's like being famous.

Buddha and Dogen both cautioned against pursuing fame and wealth. Some people think this attitude of caution was born of some profound and mystical insight into the hidden nature of reality. But actually both Buddha and Dogen were celebrities in their day and I'm certain they were speaking from personal experience. Fame and wealth are held up by society as some kind of panacea that will cure everything that's wrong with you. People pursue them thinking that once they achieve the proper degree of notoriety and money everything will be solved. Ain't gonna happen.

Anyway, that's the general thrust of the article. I'll let you know when it gets published.

Here's the remaining gigs:

On Friday May 9th Zero Defex will play an in-store show at Square Records in Akron's Highland Square with Whornz. Starts at 7:00.

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM I'll do a book signing and talk at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood.

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Monday, May 05, 2008

KENT STAGE

We did our show last night at Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in honor of the four students killed by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970 and it was the best show Zero Defex has ever done. Incredibly, there was actually a very good sound mix on stage and I could hear everything. That is the first time that's happened. The Beachland Ballroom also provided good sound, so I shouldn't slight them. But the sound at the Kent Stage was exceedingly well done. The show as also a lot of fun. The Screaming Smoldering Butt Bitches were in fine form, especially on their song "Zero Defex Eat My Ass, Zero Defex Don't Eat My Ass." You'll have to ask them what that one is about. I wore my Buddhist robes on stage. I'll put up a photo as soon as I get one. That should make plenty of people mad.

The previous night we played Pat's in the Flats, again with the Butt Bitches as well as This Moment in Black History and The Unholy Two. That was also a fun, fun, fun show. Word to the wise, if you play at Pat's do not use the drum riser. We were similarly warned, but we used it anyway and we paid the price. If you use the riser the drummer can't hear anything the rest of the band does and the sound of the drums just goes rattling around the room like a big clatter that the rest of the band can't possibly decipher.

On Sunday morning I sat with my first teacher, Tim. That was a lot of fun. Tim shares my concern that the current movement to standardize Soto Zen practice in the USA could result in a lot of good teachers being declared "inauthentic" because they didn't jump through the proper hoops. Even if this happens I'm not sure how much it will matter. I agree we have to guard against just anyone who feels the urge being able to declare themselves a Zen Master. But I'm a little concerned about the direction the drive for "authenticity" seems to be taking.

I'm not being terribly coherent here, I know. If you'd like a more coherent statement of this concern go to this page about Kobun Chino and click on "Letter from Angie Boissevain." This is a serious issue that needs to be raised and looked at carefully.

Here's the remaining gigs:

On Friday May 10th Zero Defex will play an in-store show at Square Records in Akron's Highland Square with The Horns. Starts at 7:00.

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM I'll do a book signing and talk at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood.

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

SHOW TONIGHT

Zero Defex's first show on our 2008 tour is tonight at Pat's in the Flats in Cleveland. Tomorrow we're at Kent Stage in Kent. The complete gig list is in the post below this one (too lazy to cut and paste this morning).

The weather here in Akron is gray and chilly. I love it! It's been so long since I've been able to enjoy some chilly gray-ness. Santa Monica is always sunny and warm. That's nice. But I enjoy clouds sometimes, and cold, and rain. Even snow.

I was noticing the other day how, when people want to try and get at some Zen teacher, they'll say "That's your ego!" It happens to me a lot and Brian Victoria tries the same thing with that monk at Antai-ji he writes to (see below). I guess this is supposed to be the most hurtful thing you could say to a Zen teacher or monk, and is intended to make that person defensive in return. It's not my ego, it's your ego!! I have no ego! Nyah! Sometimes it works, too. Just look at the Zen forums on the Internet. Leggo my ego! Cute stuff.

And speaking of cute stuff, I just saw that the latest photo set on Suicide Girls today features Dusti, one of my SG friends (though we've never met in person), posing with Noah Levine's book Dharma Punx. Nice set. She's cute.

Friday, May 02, 2008

STILL IN AKRON

Man my left bicep ached all yesterday afternoon just from trying to play those Zero Defex songs. We had a rehearsal yesterday and got back into shape for tomorrow night's gig at Pat's in the Flats. It should be good. We're debuting two new songs, the first new songs from Zero Defex in over 20 years. One is by our first guitarist and chief songwriter back in the day Tommy Strange. The other one I wrote. If we get it together we'll also do Mickey X-Nelson's tribute to Tommy, "Hey Tommy Strange!" which appears on our new CD (still waiting for it to show up on CD Baby).

Thanks to Element for providing this link to a page about Kodo Sawaki's quotes from Brian Victoria's book Zen At War. I haven't made it through the original Japanese versions of the quoted material, which are provided on the page. But it seems that some of the quotations come from from a dubious "autobiography" of Sawaki written after Sawaki's death by someone else in first person as if Sawaki wrote it. In the quote in which Sawaki is said to have stated that "we gorged ourselves on killing" the phrase "hara ippai" is translated as "gorged." Anyone who'd been in Japan as long as Victoria would know full well that "hara ippai" carries more a sense of being fed up with something than having gorged on it. That's just inexcusable. And I say that as a guy who spent a decade in Japan often deliberately mistranslating stuff in this same fashion, though my intention was usually to make people sound less stupid than they actually did rather than to trash someone's reputation. Makes me wonder about the rest of the book... (though, yes, it is certainly true some people in the Japanese Zen establishment did pimp for the Emperor during the war).

Gotta go. Here's the gig list yet again...

Saturday May 3rd at 3PM you can see my movie Cleveland's Screaming at Last Exit Books in Kent, Ohio.

Also on May 3rd my band 0DFx will play at Pat’s in the Flats in Cleveland with This Moment in Black History.

And on May 4th, 0DFx will play at the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the infamous shootings by the National Guard.

On Friday May 10th we'll play an in-store show at Square Records in Akron's Highland Square. Starts at 7:30.

Saturday May 10th at 7 PM (or maybe 6, they need to decide yet, call before you go) I'll do a book signing and talk at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood. I think we're showing my movie Cleveland's Screaming! afterwards.

On May 17th and 18th I'll lead a 2-day retreat at the Milwaukee Zen Center.

I'll be one of the teachers at this year's Great Sky Zen Sesshin August 9-16. Check out their webpage for details.

The annual Dogen Sangha retreat in Shizuoka, Japan will be September 20-23.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Akron, Akron, Akron...


I'm in Akron today. I'll be here for about ten days. Ten days in Akron! Bliss, I tell ya!

It's weird how I was so eager to get out of this place 15 years ago that I packed up my entire life and flew halfway around the world. Now when I get back here I'm practically kissing the soil. I had no idea how bee-you-tee-ful Akron, Ohio really was. I dreamed of Tokyo and of California instead. Hilarious.

Yet I don't regret at all what I did and where I went. It's just funny, that's all.

I've spent the morning re-learning the Zero Defex set and cursing my 18 year old self for coming up with bass lines my 44 year old self has trouble playing. I think I got 'em all now.

The new Zero Defex CD is on sale now. Only I haven't figured out how you can order it on-line yet. Supposedly CD Baby has it, but I'll be dog-goned if I can locate it there.You can get the download version of it here though. And you can hear samples of it on our MySpace page. The actual CD has very cool artwork and packaging by Vince Rancid, so I'd recommend that over the download. I'll post the ordering info as soon as I get it.

I read a few of the replies to the previous post. I really feel bad about describing Patricia as a transvestite rather than a trans-sexual. These distinctions come hard (heh-heh, I said come hard) for a guy raised in rural Ohio in the Seventies. Plus I know it hurts to be mis-identified genderwise. Shit even yesterday at the airport in Knoxville I was referred to as "ma'am" by the TSA guy. This happens all the time. Is the face stubble not enough of a give-away? I'm sad Patricia left. She seemed nice and I wanted to see if I could help her with the hard time she was so obviously having.

But I say (and not just to her, by the way), "Know Before You Go." I must accept most of the blame here because I didn't post the schedule. I didn't even make the schedule until a couple hours before the thing started. Still, I tend to assume that folks who sign up for a Zen retreat have some idea what's involved. The ones I run are pretty standard, and, in fact, tend to skew towards the "easy-peasy" end of the spectrum. There must be a zillion places on-line that post their schedules. Patricia's case is certainly not at all unique. I would not be writing this in a public forum if it were. Lots of folks show up to these things with no idea what to expect and I'm sorry but I just can't understand why that happens anymore.

Please. Before you attend a Zen retreat, read up about them. OK? Thanks.

And what's up with all the trolls posting "Brad thinks World War II never happened" bullshit? Hey -- Japan did really, really bad stuff in World War II. I know that. Everybody knows that. We nice White guys with nothing to atone for also dropped some big ol' bombs on them, too. Some Japanese guys in Buddhist robes went "yay" for the Emperor. I just don't see any compelling evidence that Kodo Sawaki fanned the flames. Here's a quote I recently discovered by Mr. Sawaki at the Tassajara library, "During the war in China I kept my hands in gassho (folded) wherever I went. When you do gassho whoever you meet does gassho to automatically. If I had raised my fist or brandished a revolver it wouldn't have happened the same way. Walking in gassho means not shooting anyone anymore." Brian Victoria's Sawaki quotes are so incredibly at odds with so many other quotes and personal memories of those who knew the man I just cannot accept them as accurate. Funnily enough Sawaki doesn't even get mentioned in Victoria's second book about Zen war mongers. You'd think he would since he's presented in the first one as such a champion of the cause. Victoria's book was important in going a long way towards humanizing Zen teachers for Westerners who saw them as Gods or mystical beings. Kudos to him for that. But when it comes to Sawaki, I'm afraid I still have to maintain my doubts about his assessment of his war-mongering-ness.

Gotta go.